Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Friday, May 27, 2011

Adam, Occam and Nasca, an unlikely trio

In a February, 1984 Ensign article entitled, "I’ve heard that some people have extended their ancestral lines back to Adam. Is this possible? If so, is it necessary for all of us to extend our pedigrees back to Adam"Robert C. Gunderson stated, in part, "In my opinion it is not even possible to verify historically a connected European pedigree earlier than the time of the Merovingian Kings (c. a.d. 450–a.d. 752). Every pedigree I have seen which attempts to bridge the gap between that time and the biblical pedigree appears to be based on questionable tradition, or at worst, plain fabrication. Generally these pedigrees offer no evidence as to the origin of the information, or they cite a vague source"

Occasionally, I hear the comment that tracing your royal line back to (_____ fill in the blank) is really good because it gets people interested in genealogy. Hogwash. People who are trying to trace their genealogy back to royalty are copying questionable records, not doing genealogy.  I know people exist who have the research skills to actually do research before 1500 A.D., I just haven't had the opportunity to meet one yet in person. I have had commentators claim accurate pedigrees back to the Merovingian Kings, but have never seen a sourced pedigree, that uses anything but published genealogies. Nothing at all where each connection can be verified by contemporary documents.

Now, that I have repeated myself from earlier posts, I will get on with my discussion of Adam, Occam and Nasca. In my last post, I briefly recounted the current state of research on the Nasca lines in Peru. The point of that discussion is simple, look to existing sources. In the case of the lines, the researchers should have been asking the people who lived in the area first, before coming up with wild theories with no basis in fact. The same principle holds true for genealogical research, look to the contemporary sources, don't rely on a $3.95 chart with no citations to authority. Along this line, I was appalled to find the chart "The Royal Line" by Albert F. Schmuhl, cited as an authority in the England Historical Overview page of the FamilySearch Research Wiki. Let's get some sources and citations going there.

In my opinion, this whole thing about tracing your genealogy back to Adam is the biggest boat anchor in genealogy. If that is what people think we are all about, then why bother?

The entire concept of tracing your lineage "back to Adam" buys into the calculations made by James Ussher (or Usser) the Anglican Archbishop of Armagh which is a county in Northern Ireland. Now how many of you who adhere to his timeline have actually read his book? Here is a link to the book in English (sort of): Annales Veteris Testamenti, a prima mundi origine deducti, una cum rerum Asiaticarum et Aegyptiacarum chronico, a temporis historici principio usque ad Maccabaicorum initia producto. Or how about in the original Latin: Annales Veteris Testamenti

 So where does Occam come into all this? Bertrand Russell said it well, albeit in another context, in his Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy: “The method of ‘postulating’ what we want has many advantages; they are the same as the advantages of theft over honest toil. Let us leave them to others and proceed with our honest toil.” (1919, p. 71). See Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Russell also paraphrased Occam's Razor with the statement, "Whenever possible, substitute constructions out of known entities for inferences to unknown entities" from Linsky, Bernard, "Logical Constructions", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2009 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)"

So here we have a proposition, that there is an unbroken line of descent from Adam in approximately 4000 B.C. to the present. The problem is, where is the empirical data? In this I am not taking sides in any religious or anti-religious arguments (although I will side with the religious if asked), what I am saying is where are your sources in the genealogical sense? How can you even postulate a theory (i.e. that Adam lived in 4000 B.C.) with no supporting contemporary documentation? Usser's book is not a source and neither is The Royal Line.  Don't come back to me with a citation to a compilation made by someone else that you haven't personally verified, where is the documentation? Have you ever watched the movie Inherit the Wind? The 1960 version? The point of the movie is not whether or not you believe in creationism, the point is lack of documentation.

Genealogy should really have nothing to say about the age of the Earth, it is a question far beyond any credible genealogical evidence. I suggest moving on to real genealogy with sources and evidence and getting away from unsupported and unsupportable theories.

1 comment:

  1. The article you linked to on the FamilySearch Research Wiki also lists "Bloodline of the Holy Grail" as a source, discussing King Arthur, Joseph of Arimathea, and Mary Magdalene. And it's riddled with spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors. What's even more pathetic is the person who added that text is supposedly an accredited genealogist.